Khalid Shaikh Mohammed had a bigger plan. The 35-year-old jihadist didn’t want to just knock down tall buildings. He wanted to kill all the men and then hold a press conference.
As the story is told in the 9/11 Commission Report, the Number Two man to Osama bin Laden — now in U.S. custody — has told interrogators that there was yet another aspect to the September 11 plot beyond targeting the Capitol, the Seattle Space Needle, and a few nuclear plants. Mohammed told bin Laden that he wanted to take control of one more hijacked plane, systematically slaughter all the men on board, and then hold a press conference in which he would tell the world how America was being punished for supporting Israel.
I don’t want to sound like a Freudian here, but there is a very crude sexual dynamic to all this. Understanding it will give us an idea of the threat we are up against - and why it seems so difficult to enlist almost half the country (specifically the female half of the country) to the task.
Killing all the men and sparing women of the enemy is as old as history. When Moses sent the Israelites again the Midianites, he commanded them:
Now therefore kill every male among the little ones and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.
But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves. (Numbers 31: 17-18)
The strategy has a simple biological basis. Women are the “scarce resource” in human reproduction. One man can impregnate a thousand women but a woman can only be impregnated, at any given time, by one man. Men reproduce by controlling women. Women reproduce by going with controlling men.
Human civilizations — the peaceful ones, at least — have controlled this inherently volatile dynamic through a grand social contract called “monogamy.” Monogamy is a purely artificial norm which says that each man may marry only one woman. It was unquestionably born in the long pre-history of humankind when people survived in small hunting-and-gathering tribes that never numbered more than 40-50. In such vulnerable groups, the cooperation of every individual was essential. If a dominant male started monopolizing females, then the lowest-status males would be left without mates. These disaffected individuals would either cause endless disturbance (as they do today) or would be forced to migrate, leaving the unit vulnerable to attacks by other males. The most efficient strategy was to limit each male to one wife, thereby guaranteeing that each male had a reasonable opportunity of finding a mate.
Somewhere along the line of history, however, portions of humanity have abandoned this compromise. Polygamy is common among herding people and among the “horticultural” cultures of the tropics, where women do the farming. Indeed, it is always under pressure in any society, since it dissatisfies two large cohorts — dominant males, who are denied access to multiple wives, and low-status females, who are denied access to the best males.
In The Economics of Justice, Richard Posner speculates that polygamy developed among herders because, for the first time in history, they had “fixed assets” — stocks of cattle and sheep that could be exchanged for another important asset, wives. Since herders are nomadic and “pastoral,” they did not have to defend territory and could afford to lose a few extra males.
In tropical Africa and Polynesia, on the other hand, polygamy evolved because women became more productive. As hunting became exhausted, men declined to adopt agriculture, which was “women’s work.” As a result, women became economically independent. Such women did not have to depend on men for income but could simply attach themselves to the most powerful men for protection. These men — whose wealth usually derived form politics and land — were often able to accumulate dozens of wives.
As a result, the “bachelor herd” of mammalian biology is reborn in these societies. A significant residue of unattached males with little hope of mating becomes a significant social constituent. For these unattached males, there are two potential strategies: challenge and overthrow the dominant males within the society, or turn outward and conquer other societies.
The former is the story of Islam. There has never been a time in Islamic history when a large cohort of males was not challenging the central authority. The Shi’ites, the Assassins, the Mamluks, the Wahabis, the Mujahedin — there is no end to them. (Even today, “Fundamentalists” are challenging the authority of every Moslem state, including those established by previous generations of Fundamentalists.)
The latter, on the other hand, has been the story of Western and Eastern history. Right through the 19th century, there was always a polygamous “Mongol Horde” beating at the door of western European and Eastern civilizations. John Sobieski, the King of Poland, saved Vienna in 1683. The Chinese built their wall.
Islam, which sanctions polygamy, is not the cause of this historical pattern, but it ratified what already existed. Osama bin Laden is simply the latest incarnation of Genghis Khan — the leader of a nomadic, polygamous culture that has set up its “base” (“Al Qaeda”) in the same barren portion of the world.
Until September 11, 2001, America had essentially moved outside this historic dynamic. The Mongol Hordes, the Huns, the Moguls, the Turks — all existed “over there” or somewhere in the pages of history. Now the world has grown small enough so they are at our doorstep.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?